Court frees kidnap case accused
Blood-on-streets blame on bus drivers, unions
Chat me later, meet me now
The City Diary
Trinamul councillor held for attack
Civic nod for slum plans
Delayed order robs teachers of Puja bonus
Nip in the air, but not yet winter
Showcase Bengal in Gujarati festive edition
Murder & mayhem after immersion row

Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Mohammed Taslim, alias Chunnu, one of the main accused in the abduction of Khadim’s vice-chairman Parthapratim Roy Burman, was set free by the Alipore court on Sunday. The Tiljala-based crimelord walked free following the CID’s failure to produce a chargesheet against him within the stipulated 90 days of his arrest.

Chunnu’s release is the second body-blow the Khadim’s case probe has taken in the past few days. Roy Burman’s driver, Nabakumar Mandal, arrested three days before Chunnu for his alleged involvement in the July 25 abduction of the footwear baron, was released by the court on similar grounds three days earlier.

The twin failures of the CID have raised serious questions about the fate of police investigation into the high-profile abduction. It has also cast a cloud on the CID’s ability to chargesheet the others — including Swati Pal — arrested for their alleged involvement in the case.

CID sources, however, put down their failure to their lack of familiarity in handling cases which use a lot of sophisticated technology.

“All the evidence that we gathered in the course of the hi-tech investigation could not be put into the case diary, as that would have alerted the kingpins operating from outside,” a CID official said, referring to Dubai-based Md Shafique, alias Raju, and Rajen, who had his origin in Calcutta.

Though the news of Chunnu’s release sparked off celebrations among his associates in Tiljala, Subir Chatterjee, officer-in-charge, Tiljala police station, said he would not allow him to enter the belt. “I am responsible for the law and order here,” he said.

The entire Khadim’s case, built around the arrests of Mandal and Chunnu, runs the risk of hitting a stonewall now, fear sleuths. Mandal was arrested on July 26, a day after Roy Burman was abducted near his company’s Tiljala warehouse, and released by the court on October 25.

Chunnu was first co-opted by police teams during raids on suspected hideouts along the E.M. Bypass. In the wake of allegations that he was “using the police” to smoke out rivals who had challenged his supremacy in the Tiljala belt, Chunnu was arrested at Bhabani Bhavan, on July 29.

Chunnu is known to have prospered under the patronage of a CPM leader, who finally played a part in his arrest. Senior CID officials made a huge issue out of Chunnu’s arrest and at a crowded press conference, claimed that they were on the verge of cracking the case. By contrast, on Sunday, neither CID inspector-general Partha Bhattacharyya nor deputy inspector-general V.V. Thambi was available for comment on the department’s failure to file a chargesheet against their “prize catch”.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Date: September 2, 2001

Time: 7.45 pm

Place: Rashbehari Avenue

Ranjan Mukherjee, 60, has just emerged from the Kalighat Metro Rail station and is making his way down Rashbehari Avenue when a private bus, while overtaking another, crushes him to death. The police conduct an investigation, but fail to identify the driver, as his licence record is not available…

This is no isolated hit-and-run case. Alarmed at the number of road mishaps on city streets — an increasing number caused by reckless drivers of private buses — the city police have decided to take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The reason: It’s the CPM’s labour wing, Citu, that the police and the bus-owners blame for the blood on the streets.

On an average, about 400 pedestrians are crushed under the wheels of speeding vehicles — with “private bus-drivers” accounting for the maximum number. “During investigation, we stumbled upon the fact that a large number of private bus-drivers do not have a valid licence. We will take up the matter with the highest authority,” said joint commissioner of police (traffic) Sandhi Mukherjee.

According to statistics available with the city traffic police, between January 1998 to October 10, 2001, a total of 1,708 persons have been run over by private buses.

Over 3,500 private buses ply in the city every day. What senior police officials do not admit publicly is the clout the CPM-backed bus drivers’ unions wield over the owners. “These unskilled and unlicensed drivers cannot be touched because the CPM’s labour arm, Citu, controls the drivers’ unions and dictates their appointment. Unlicensed drivers are wreaking havoc and road accidents cannot be prevented as long as Citu continues to control matters,” said a senior police official.

Senior police officials admit there is very little they can do except “appeal” to the Citu-controlled union members to stop deploying drivers who do not have a proper licence. The appeal is ignored on most occasions, they add.

Ajit Saha, president of Bengal Bus Syndicate, echoes the view held by the cops. “I have written to the president of Bus Workers’ Union and CPM MLA Rajdeo Goala to take steps against the malpractice. Hundreds of innocent people lose their lives at the hands of these untrained drivers,” he said.

Goala, a prominent Citu leader, denied receiving any letter from Saha. “Allegations made against the union are baseless. Accidents are caused by decreasing roadspace and increasing vehicular traffic,” he declared.

Public Vehicles Department (PVD) director T.V. Venkatraman said he was “not aware” of any statistics blaming road accidents on buses. “And the PVD in Calcutta is not the only office from where licences are issued,” he added.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Every evening, Arun logs into a chatroom at his para cybercafe — to connect with friends, and, more importantly, ‘find’ a girl. Who knows, he might find Ms Right in cyberspace. But during the four Puja days, the 20-year-old logged out of his virtual chatroom and got real. He steered clear of the cybercafe and parked himself at the para pandal, or at Maddox Square or Jodhpur Park. “This is the one time of the year that you can actually approach a girl, anywhere, anytime, and strike up a conversation. Who needs a virtual chat when you can have the real thing?” the second-year college student asks.

Cybercafes across the city have never been as deserted as they were during Puja 2001. Footfall slowed to a crawl as regulars, for once, chose to take their eyes off the monitor and step out. Take the Chittaranjan Avenue outlet of Junction 96, where the footfall fell from “around 230 to 80” during the festive days. Says centre officer Rajiv: “Most of our clientele is students or young professionals, who spend between one and two hours here. The vast majority is busy chatting. But during the Pujas, those who dropped in just checked their mail in a hurry and left.” The centre’s “50 to 60 regulars” also include a few who chat for as long as “five to six hours” from afternoon to night. Last week, they dropped out of sight. On Sunday, they had already started coming back and from Monday, things are expected to be close to normal.

Junction 96 at Ballygunge Phari had a similar tale to tell. “None of our regulars turned up. The people who did step in, didn’t stay beyond 15 minutes and no one seemed to have the time to chat,” says centre officer Deependra Dixit. Ashwina, who drops by every evening, was back at her favourite PC on Sunday evening. “I have found many friends on the Net, but during the Pujas, I was just too busy having fun with friends and meeting new people.”

At another end of town, a Salt Lake cybercafe near Karunamoyee registered a “drastic drop” during Durga Puja. “On any given evening, you’ll find a host of 16 to 26-year-olds, chatting with 10 to 12 partners at a time and spending hours in front of the computer. But during the Pujas, hardly anyone turned up. All the regulars were hanging out at the FD and FE Block pujas, doing what they normally do in cybercafes — chat with girls and guys,” says Arindam.

Clearly, the Pujas showed up the power of the personal touch. As Manish, a young businessman who spends long hours in chatrooms, put it: “In chatrooms, you start off with the cursory ASL (Age, Sex, Location) and then go on to make friends with a complete stranger, often hundreds of miles away. But during occasions like the Pujas, even chat-freaks prefer to get up, close and personal.”



Bullets and bombs at Sonarpur, 15 held

Police fired four rounds to disperse two warring factions at Kalikapur, in Sonarpur, on the city’s southern fringes, on Sunday morning. Mohan Sardar and his friends were at a teastall owned by Nilu Sardar when a quarrel broke out among them. Suddenly, one of them opened fire. As news spread that Nilu had been shot, local residents turned on Mohan and his men. Superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said they had to fire in the air in “self-defence” when they were attacked with brickbats and bombs. Shops and houses were ransacked. Fifteen persons were later arrested. A police picket has been posted to pre-empt further violence and a combing operation launched to round up the culprits.

Pandal assault probe ordered

Police are investigating the role of the officers who had allegedly beaten up two youth in front of the Bosepukur Sitala Mandir puja pandal in Kasba on Nabami night. A police team, including a deputy superintendent and an additional superintendent, had beaten up the two youth after one of them had asked the officers to show their identity cards, when told to move on to make way for others. A report has been sought on the incident which had sparked tension in the area.

Youth drowns

Sayan Ghosh, 19, a resident of Salt Lake, who was on vacation, drowned at Bakkhali on Sunday. Fishermen recovered his body from the river, police said.

Raid on eateries

After an explosion razed a fast-food shop near Lake Market on Friday and injured four persons, the CMC has decided to crack down on “unlicensed eateries” in the city. Javed Ahmed Khan, member, mayor-in-council, health, said CMC food inspectors have been directed to conduct a survey on all such eateries in their jurisdiction.    

Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Mantu Sanyal, Trinamul Congress councillor of ward 34, who defected from the CPM ahead of the civic elections last year, was arrested early on Sunday on charges of trying to murder Nabakumar Das, a Beleghata resident. Sanyal has been remanded in police custody till November 5.

The police found it difficult to establish how Das, known locally as a CPM cadre, escaped unhurt though Sanyal allegedly fired at him from close range, while Sanyal’s associates were hurling bombs at him.

Sanyal said his arrest was the price he was paying for quitting the CPM. Phoolbagan Trinamul MLA Paresh Pal and mayor-in-council members Swapan Samaddar and Rajib Deb, who led a crowd of a few thousand to Sealdah court demanding Sanyal’s release, pointed to the disparity in police action between Sunday’s prompt arrest — Sanyal was arrested within two hours of the FIR filed around 11 pm on Saturday — and the force’s “unwillingness” to arrest CPM MLA and Assembly chief whip Lakshmi De, who was named in an FIR on October 7 as the person who led a daylight attack on Medical College and Hospital superintendent S. Sinha.

The trouble broke out around 10.30 pm on Saturday, when Sanyal asked Das, a Calcutta State Transport Corporation employee, about the whereabouts of his nephew, Mithu Mullick. According to Das’ FIR, Sanyal fired at him when he failed to reply satisfactorily.

The account given by Sanyal’s wife, Manju, differed from his. “My husband left home around 10.30 pm last night without finishing his dinner after he heard that some Trinamul boys were being beaten up and the party office was being ransacked by CPM cadre,” Manju said. The attack was a conspiracy by the CPM and Trinamul defectors, belonging to the Ajit Panja camp, her husband alleged.

The fact that Sanyal was the only one arrested of the seven people named in the FIR gave the Trinamul camp an opportunity to hit out at the police’s “partisanship”.

Arguing that Sanyal be kept in police custody, the investigating officer, who pleaded the case in the absence of a public prosecutor, said Sanyal’s release could spark law-and-order problems not only in Beleghata but also elsewhere in the city. Sheikh Daulat, appearing on Sanyal’s behalf, said the case was trumped up as there had been not a single instance of damage to any person or property.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
In a move to “rid the city of slums”, the Trinamul Congress-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to sanction construction on bustee lands, without waiting for clearance from the government.

At present, construction on bustee land has to be cleared by the Controller of Thika Tenancy of the land reforms department.

“From now on, construction proposals up to three-storeys will be sanctioned directly by the civic building department,” said Swapan Samaddar, member, mayor-in-council (building). “But the proposal must have the support of all occupants of the bustee in question,” added director-general, building, Ashok Roychaudhury.

The Corporation move comes in the wake of a recent Calcutta High Court judgment dismissing the right of the controller of Thika Tenancy to sanction construction plans on bustee lands.

Since the slum lands in Calcutta and Howrah were taken over by the state government in 1981 and placed under Thika Tenancy, any construction on what came to be known as “thika land”, was required to be endorsed by the controller.

The government, in 1995, allowed pucca structures up to a height of 9.5 metres on thika land, subject to a ‘no-objection certificate’ (NOC) from the controller of Thika Tenancy. But the controller of Thika Tenancy sat on the proposal and, as a result, the development plans hit a stonewall.

“It is primarily due to this reason that slums could not be developed into modern settlements,” said mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “More than 4,000 bighas of prime land are now occupied by bustees, in which more than two million Calcuttans live with the barest of civic amenities. This is unacceptable,” Mukherjee added.

The mayor confirmed that permission from the controller of Thika Tenancy will no longer be required, paving the way for multi-storeyed buildings and market-cum-residential complexes coming up on the bustee plots, with slum-dwellers being “rehabilitated in a better environment”.

Bustee lands — characterised by single-storeyed kuchcha structures — are spread over Judges’ Court Road, Gariahat Road, Alipore, Bhowanipore, Sealdah, Ashutosh Mukherjee Road, Kalighat, Narkeldanga and Kidderpore.

“Slums are like scars, and if timely action is not taken to replace them with buildings, Calcutta will never get the much-needed facelift,” said member, mayor-in-council, slum development, Pradip Ghosh.

Rajib Deb, member, mayor-in-council (drainage and sewerage), said that his department will do “all that is required” to improve the drainage and sewerage network to make the slum areas “hygienic”.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
This year’s Durga puja was far from festive for more than a lakh teachers of state-aided primary schools in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state. They have been deprived of their Puja bonus.

The government delay in releasing funds to over 51,000 schools across the state also put paid to the annual Puja advance payment that the teachers can avail of.

The state government issued its order on release of funds for bonus for primary school teachers only on October 18 — three days before the Pujas.

As a result, primary school authorities across the state were unable to pay teachers their bonus as the funds did not reach the institutions. Apart from a few schools in Calcutta, none of the schools in the districts could pay the bonus as only two working days were available after the government released the order.

This has created resentment among the teachers, who on Saturday threatened to take up the matter with Kanti Biswas, school education minister, next week.

“This is a glaring example of the state government’s negligence. How can the order be released so late?” asked Kartick Saha, general secretary of the Bengal Primary School Teachers’ Association.

The decision to pay bonus to primary school teachers was finalised by the government a few months ago. “We cannot understand what prevented the government from issuing the order a little earlier. As it is, the amount paid is not very high,” said the teachers. They are paid a minimum of Rs 2,000 per head as puja bouns.

Sources in the state education department said some complications in preparing the bills by the finance department led to the delay in releasing the funds.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
The weather gods were kind to Calcutta during the Pujas this year. The rain in the city and suburbs came after Dashami, capping five days and nights of clear sky that enabled thousands of people to roam from pandal to pandal.

And there is another silver lining from Saturday. “Once the effects of the low pressure that formed over the north-east Bay of Bengal dissipate by Monday, and the clouds move away, there will be a slight drop in temperature, making the weather quite pleasant,” according to Alipore Met office chief R.N. Goldar.

He ruled out this low-pressure development hastening the onset of winter, though. Winter in Calcutta is not expected before November-end, when the minimum temperature recorded will have to be below 18 degrees for a consecutive four days at least.

But the rains and the accompanying cool breeze from the north-east did prompt many to believe that winter was round the corner. For the first time after the grisly summer months, many a household switched off fans and air-conditioners, and even covered themselves with a light blanket early on Sunday morning. The minimum temperature posted around 24 degrees.

After the monsoon’s slightly delayed withdrawal over the region this year on October 13, Calcutta experienced heavy rainfall even a week before the festivities began, causing worry among the revellers and Puja-organising committee members alike.

“We were praying for a stop to the rain so that, unlike last year, the crowds did not have trouble in approaching our pandal,” said a member of the Park Circus puja committee. Heavy rain would have also caused the colour to run from the pandal cloth, they feared.

As if in answer to hundreds of similar prayers, the rain did hold. The whole Puja week till Saturday evening was dry, allowing a peaceful and, in some cases, emotional farewell to the goddess. Immersions were trouble-free, as were the processions leading to the Hooghly and other ghats. And now, the slightly high temperature caused by a strongly-shining sun is also on the wane.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
From Tagore’s stories to Ray’s movies, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s poems to a special article on Sri Sri Ramakrishna. The puja edition of Mahanagar Calcutta Halchal — the “largest-circulated Gujarati magazine in eastern India” promises A to Z of Bengal and its cultural and literary heritage.

All but lost amidst the swamp of Bengali publications, the Sharadiya edition of Gujarati magazine Mahanagar Calcutta Halchal has steadily gained ground since its inception in 1997. “This time, we’ve sold more than 25,000 copies in and outside Bengal,” say Bhavesh Sheth and Sanjay Shah, editors of the Calcutta-based Gujarati weekly. “While the past Sharodiya editions of our magazine had focused on the political and social aspects of the state, this time the emphasis is on literature and culture.”

So, the index boasts short stories of Rabindranath Tagore, Banaphul, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and Jarasandha, and poems by the likes of Nirendranath Chakraborty, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Sankha Ghosh, special features on Sri Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

The shift in focus, according to the editor duo, was prompted by “feedback” from their readers. “Bengal, which is a home to over a lakh of Gujaratis, has always been a place of special interest for our people back home.

Besides, Gujaratis throughout the country had expressed their desire to read about the great men of Bengal and the stalwarts of Bengali literature this time,” said Sheth, who had started the magazine as an “experiment” at the age of 20 in 1985.

While literature has been the primary focus of the Sharodiya edition of Halchal, the magazine offers an entire range of topics for a wide cross-section of readers. There are travel tips for tourists coming to Bengal, a 20-page feature on evolution of Bengali cinema since the silent era, features on actress Kanan Devi and music director Anil Biswas and a tribute to filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Besides, both Governor Viren J. Shah and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have been featured in the magazine.

Bringing out this edition was easier said than done, admit both the editors. “Since we were translating the works of the leading lights of Bengali literature and writing on some of the legends of the state, we had to be extra careful.” So, people like Rajnikant Rawal, a professor in Gujarat, Dilip Ganatra, a Calcutta-based Gujarati writer and Harsukh Thanki, a journalist in Gujarat, were roped in to help out with this edition.

For Sheth and Shah, the main objective of Halchal, priced at Rs 20, is to “bridge the gap” between Bengali and Gujarati cultures. “There is very little literary exchange between these two rich languages. We hope that such editions can facilitate a progressive interaction between the two,” concludes Shah.


Calcutta, Oct. 28: 
Two persons were killed at Shantipur in Nadia when a brawl over immersion rights turned violent, forcing the police to open fire this morning.

Eight people, including four policemen, were injured. No one has been arrested.

Inspector-general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee said the violence escalated after a quarrel between two rival groups, forcing the police to take stern action.

Senior officials are camping in the area where a strong police contingent and personnel of the Rapid Action Force have been deployed to maintain peace.

Tempers had been frayed in the area since a drunken brawl on Friday between the two groups over immersion rights. “Each group wanted to be ahead of the other during the immersion procession. We somehow managed to control the fight then. We heard that Amol Haldar was singled out by some local youths during the clash,” said a senior police officer.

The volcano of rage erupted early this morning when Haldar, a resident of neighbouring Char Shantipur and son of a local Congress councillor, was stabbed to death.

The agitated residents of Char Shantipur, who have a running feud with the youths of Kachharipara, alleged that the murder was the handiwork of the rival club members with whom they had fought on Friday.

Within minutes, hundreds of youths, armed with bombs and daggers, made their way towards Kachharipara. Around 8.30 am, a pitched battle began that continued for over an half-and-a-hour, before local policemen arrived. Outnumbered, the police had to contact superintendent of police Ramphal Pawar for additional forces.

Around 9.30 am, a large police force under sub-divisional police officer (Ranaghat) Swapan Maity rushed to the spot only to be greeted with a volley of brickbats and bombs. Constables Niren Mullick and Deepak Roy sustained serious bomb splinter injuries immediately.

“The policemen first resorted to lathicharge to bring the situation under control, but failed. Then they had to open fire as a last-ditch effort to quell the mob,” Pawar said.

However, the situation took a turn for the worse when a bullet hit a youth on the chest. As Niranjan Saha, 21, a resident of Char Shantipur, slumped to the ground, some members of the mob scurried for safety while others continued to hurl stones and bombs at the police. Vishnupriya Das, 20, and Payal Das were also injured in the firing. Both were rushed to hospital.

Pawar said the situation was finally brought under control around noon.


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